LeaderLynx – Shoot the Cows?

by Jul 6, 2012

‘Sacred Cows’ as they are called have existed in the workplace as long as groups have gathered in teams to accomplish tasks.  Legend has it that most sacred cows are fat and happy.

During one of my consulting jobs many years ago there was a sacred cow I inherited named Linda. The only difference between Linda and other sacred cows I had encountered over the years was that, in addition to the typical traits of a sacred cow, she was also lazy… very lazy.

Oh yeah, and you’ve heard about the gas emissions of cows and how they affect the atmosphere?  Let’s just say you didn’t want to be walking behind her in the hall.  Yes, Linda kept smelling up the office like a barn – both literally and figuratively.

We tried to train the cow.  We educated her.  She attended in-services.  We role played.

How did Linda’s reign of terror end?  My job is to provide those who hire me with the best advice possible.  I will implement my suggestions personally, however, it is their decision as to which items on my lists they  tackle.  In this instance the client chose to keep Linda around because she had been a dear friend to them for many years.

Did they eventually reign in their sacred cow?  No.  Unfortunately they allowed her to continue plodding down the same paths.  Morale suffered, the business declined and part of the operation failed – their business declined by one-third.  You can lead a horse (or cow) to water, but you can’t make her drink.

I wish I could offer you a magic formula that would remove sacred cows from your barnyard altogether – but in practice they are sacred for a reason and often can’t be sent to greener pastures.  But what I can do is provide you a few techniques on how to wrangle these sometimes troublesome bovines.

  • Seek the truth – Attempt to understand the reason your cow is perceived as an indispensable commodity.
  • If you believe the cows handlers will listen, gently test the water to see if they have any interest at all in hearing about ways to improve the operation – and that needs to be your focus – improving the operation – not shooting the cow.
  • If you are stuck with a cow you can’t fight, harness the cows strengths to the benefit of the organization to the best of your ability.  Befriend your hapless bovine.  Make them your best friend.  You may find some positive qualities which will be beneficial.

Sometimes, we as leaders, are presented the opportunity to improve our leadership skills when we are forced to wrangle beasts which shouldn’t even be on our farm.  But with a little bit of thought and planning, you too will be able to lead your sacred cows down a better path.